Shearling is also at home off the range Following the Flock


Now that winter has settled into teen temp mode, outerwear to suit is becoming a shopping consideration.

The fashion advance guard did its coatwork early in the retail cycle, preferring to pay full price for being the first to bundle up in stylish shearling.

The careful shoppers are just now looking to take advantage of post-holiday sales. And they may still have some luck snagging this season's status coat.

In the way of fashion, clothes of humble origin often gain snob appeal, and shearling coats, which were once the commonplace cold weather wear of ranch hands, have now achieved chic status.

The last time shearling made a stir in the fashion pages, back in the '70s, it was cut in Marlboro Man western style, a look still current. Today, however, shearling is also getting more luxurious designer treatments. Besides traditional browns and tans, shearling is seen in deep fashion colors -- teals, reds, forest greens and rich blues -- colors that suggest fiber rather than fur origin.

Shearling is actually sheepskin with its wool intact, with the fuzzy surface turned to the inside and the suede, or leather, turned outward. As such, shearling doesn't seem to generate the same anti-fur sentiments as fluffier pelts. It may be that shearling is more acceptable inasmuch as it suggests rugged treks through the high country rather than a night gliding in a limo.

Or, perhaps, it is perceived as a byproduct of the food chain, since the animal is bred not just for its pelt, but also for meat. The fact is, however, that shearling is showing up in places where the mink pack fears to tread.

That may be an indicator of a subtle shift in attitudes on fur wearing. Mano Swartz Furs, the fourth-generation Baltimore furrier that closed its Towson business in 1993 under pressure from anti-fur groups and slumping sales, is getting a new lease. Richard Swartz, grandson of the founder, is setting up in business again at Octavia in the Village of Cross Keys. The official opening will be in February, but a private preview sale held Dec. 26 through Jan. 2 generated interest and sales.

"At the opening sale, we had both newcomers and our old customers, and shearling was definitely in demand," says Mr. Swartz. "We have it in fashion styles by designer Giuliano Tesso, and we have reordered."

For all its rugged qualities, price does put shearling in the luxury class. Shoppers can expect to pay between $600 and $1,000 for a quality coat with designer originals costing in the thousands. It is also a high-maintenance garment that requires expert cleaning, although shearling holds up for many years with proper care.

Shearling styles this season, according to Lili Kasdan of the Leather Apparel Association, follow the broader fashion picture.

* The car coat: A strong look for winter, and versatile. The short coat works with jeans for a country look, yet translates to a top coat when worn with a city suit.

* The swing: Full and roomy, swing coats in dramatic colors are the most sophisticated shearling wraps.

* Retro: Aviator jackets with snug shearling collar and western coats with rugged wool-out seams continue to be classic favorites.

* Warm accents: Shearling with its distinctive fuzzy turned-cuffs is being made up into boots, gloves, hats and backpacks.

* Faux looks: Fake shearlings are made of genuine suede that has been lined with a synthetic pile fabric. Feel is the giveaway. A fake lining does not have the soft and pliant feel of the real thing.

* Over the top: Some designers showed shearling miniskirts in their fall collections. What that does to the look of hips and winter chill on legs is beyond imagining.


Styling by Suzin Boddiford

Shearling, $299, from Burlington Coat Factory at Reisterstown Road Plaza

Modeled by Heather Cole/ Nova Models


* Store garment on broad hanger -- not wire -- to maintain its shape, and never under plastic.

* Avoid spraying perfumes and hair sprays while wearing.

* If wet, air dry naturally and avoid exposing garment to heat and humidity.

* Water- and stain-repellent products are available but should first be tested on an inconspicuous part of the garment.

* Expert annual cleaning -- costing about $65 -- is recommended.

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